Dec
10
2008

Tegucigalpa

Although the guidebooks kind of put down Tegucigalpa saying there is not much of interest (and that it’s dangerous), I really like it here. Maybe it’s the big city I was craving after all that time in the bush. Just a few of the civilized things to be found here are an art museum (gasp! I haven’t see any modern art since leaving NYC.. and I’m feeling it), an outdoor pedestrian mall just like you would find in any town in Europe (ok, maybe Eastern Europe, that level of shops), diversity of shops and people, and all kinds of choices for food.
The art museum was ok. Not terribly large for being the national (possibly only) art museum of the country. There were a dozen galleries, ranging from pre-historic rock carvings to pre-Columbian ceramics to colonial, and even contemporary Honduran art. The modern stuff was pretty good, actually.

I wandered into the mother of all hardware stores. Down here, they don’t make a distinction between “pro” gear and consumer gear like they do in the States. Also, every store sells every brand, unlike in the States. You’ll have 5-ton chain blocks and hard hats next to gardening equipment and Elmer’s glue. Every kind of adhesive, lubricant, metalworking, power tool you can imagine. I was in heaven just wandering the aisles looking at all the fun gear.

The geography is pretty. There is a river running through town, and lots of hills which make for great views. The dry mountains rise from right beyond the city. Picture Missoula, Montana on a larger scale.
It’s a real city so people stare at me less here, a nice relief. The traffic is really bad, and the drivers love those horns. I’ve never understood the point of everyone leaning on their horn for 30 seconds at a stretch. Gridlock is gridlock, it’s not going to be solved by being an asshole and waking up the neighborhood. This society seems to not have invented the muffler or the catalytic converter yet.. the noise and smog get old fast.
But walking around, I keep discovering new things. I knew I had arrived when I passed one bookshop with Noam Chomsky in the window, and another with Susan Sontag, two of my favorite social theorists.

George, the guy I met on the bus, invited me to meet his cousin’s family that he was staying with. An awkward situation.. the father, who is a cab driver, is alcoholic. I guess he kept things together for a long time, but a few weeks ago it got so bad that now he just sits home and drinks. His poor family are trying to keep things together. They don’t want him leaving the house for fear he’ll be robbed or worse, so they keep him in, which means they’re forced to feed his addiction, as much as they try not to. In order to keep some money coming in, one of the daughters rides in the taxi giving directions (since she knows the city, but can’t drive) to a friend who actually drives the cab. Meanwhile, mom keeps their tidy home while her husband looks (and smells) like a bum. He kept showing me photos and various mementos. I couldn’t understand a word he said, but I’ve gotten good enough at picking up the cues and gestures in order to nod and say “buen” and “claro” in all the right places.

After meeting the family, we took the cab for a drive around town. We ended up at a fancy mall just like you’d find in any rich suburb in the States. Funny thing about public Christmas trees – down here, they’re all sponsored by the beer companies. So the large Christmas tree in the central park is basically an enormous beer advertisement. The same thing was true in Guat City. Speaking of beer sponsorship, another night we wound up at a karaoke bar. Packed with families sucking down beers and meat, I couldn’t believe how much these people could drink. The custom here is to leave all the empty bottles on the table until you settle up, so it’s easy to see at a glance how much people have consumed. Anyway, there was a “Salva Vida” girl walking around. That’s the main beer in Honduras. She’s paid to walk around and flirt with people, I guess. I wish I had a photo of her – tight halter top (no bra) with their logo blazoned across the front, tight low-cut leggings with the logo blazoned across the ass (no panties, and believe me it was hard not to notice) and heels. Yowsa.

Yesterday I hiked up to the Christ statue overlooking the town. If you’ve ever been to Rio (or Antigua), you know what I mean. The guidebooks say you have to take a complicated bus or an expensive taxi, but it’s right there, screw it, I’m walking. Glad I did, too – saw some interesting things. Like the rest of Central America, Tegus is full of disparity. On the way up, I went through shantytowns that had still not recovered from Hurricane Mitch 10 years ago. Entire villages were washed down the hillside, due to all the deforestation. I took the main road on the way back down and went through the opposite kind of neighborhoods – huge mansions, many belonging diplomats.

One does grow tired of all the security guards. Every chain store, jewelry shop, electronics store, even the friggin’ fast food joints (basically, anyone who can afford it) has at least one security guard standing by the door, wielding a large menacing shotgun. I suppose it’s meant to make me feel safer, but it only serves to do the opposite. I fully realize it’s a dangerous country, but is fear-mongering and fighting fire with fire really the solution?

Get this.. the supermarkets have DJ’s in them! I guess to help you get your groove on while picking out bread and butter. One simply cannot find real juice here. I don’t even mean fresh, I just want regular juice from concentrate. All the juices in even the largest groceries are water, sugar, fake flavoring, and maybe 10% actual juice. Don’t they grow oranges here?! I guess economics wins again.

Speaking of fast food, several of them have table service. Weird, huh. It’s like, what’s the point? I suppose to give people jobs. Like you find in ex-communist countries, that’s common here too – way too many employees in a given store. They follow you around and stare, it’s very disconcerting.
It turns out that fast food here is for the rich, the opposite as it is in the States. The food is expensive compared to eating in a regular local restaurant. It seems to go against economics, but I suppose there is the cachet of a chain store brand. A fresh donut at the local bakery cost me 3 Lemps, and that same donut at Dunkin’ Donuts (which are everywhere here) cost 24 Lemps. Guess which was the better donut?

One of these days that I’m bored (read: avoiding cracking those language books), I think I will follow someone around. You know, to learn about an average life here. One time we were on tour in London I think it was, and Holley did just that. She followed a couple around for hours, even into the show they were seeing that evening! I always thought that was a creative way to see a city.

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